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{Photo Credit: Fabrice Duhal}Photo Credit: Fabrice Duhal

How health workers use technology to combat illness

Treatments for diseases like tuberculosis (TB) and HIV are lengthy and complex. Medications need to be taken regularly and for extended periods. Interruptions come at a high cost for patients, their families, and the health systems that treat them. 

Over the past several years, professionals across a range of disciplines have focused on creating solutions at all levels of the health system. From a tool that helps governments calculate the economic cost of medicine stock-outs to a piece of software that allows doctors across Ukraine to follow a patient’s complex TB treatment, technology can play a critical role in bringing solutions to scale and making significant progress in the age-old fight against deadly diseases. 

Here are two examples of how MSH is helping health workers use computers to fight back.

 {Photo: Kate Ramsey/MSH}Women examine cards depicting health information during a pregnancy club session in eastern Uganda.Photo: Kate Ramsey/MSH

Improving the quality of care that women experience during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period has become a major global priority. Achieving good quality care requires not only clinical improvements, but also a person-centered approach that takes into account women’s and health workers’ needs and perspectives.

In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its antenatal care guidelines, calling for a positive pregnancy experience through holistic, person-centered antenatal services that provide pregnant women with emotional support and advice in addition to the standard clinical assessments.

 {Photo credit: Kate Ramsey/MSH}A midwife in Uganda leads a group antenatal care session, an approach that can transform how quality care is delivered and experienced.Photo credit: Kate Ramsey/MSH

For many people living in poor and underserved regions – whether rural communities or growing cities – midwives are the health system.

Midwives play a vital role for women during pregnancy and childbirth, but their care expands much more than that. Midwives provide solutions that ensure girls and women have access to a comprehensive range of services promoting their right to physical and mental health. They provide family planning and reproductive health services and care for newborns and young children not only at health facilities but also in communities. They deliver the respectful and excellent quality of care that can prevent more than 80 percent of all maternal deaths, stillbirths, and newborn deaths worldwide.

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Reaching Women in Uganda Through Pregnancy Clubs

 {Photo credit: Gashaw Shiferaw/SIAPS}SIAPS technical advisor Alan George (standing left) conducts an inventory management exercise.Photo credit: Gashaw Shiferaw/SIAPS

Some 13.5 million people desperately require humanitarian assistance in Syria, which includes access to essential medicines and other pharmaceutical products. Managing a sound supply chain is challenging in the best of circumstances—and in a crisis like this, there are many potential pitfalls and little room for error.

That becomes clear when health workers from relief organizations talk about their work in the country. The large number of displaced persons fleeing the conflict and the unstable, dangerous conditions in Syria require a tight strategy and concerted international effort to deliver vaccines, medical products and devices, and medicines. 

First, there are the painstaking tasks of procuring supplies, including negotiating prices, estimating consumption rates, and quantifying stock—all against the backdrop of a situation in flux. Items shipped across the border require a specific type of sealing and more than a year of shelf life. Stock needs to be transported and stored in temperature-controlled trucks.

{Photo credit: © 2013 Alfredo L Fort, Courtesy of Photoshare}A strong pharmaceutical system with a skilled health workforce translates into savings in health service costs.Photo credit: © 2013 Alfredo L Fort, Courtesy of Photoshare

You can’t put a price tag on health, but we do have budgets that determine what we can spend to help countries improve their health. At Systems for Improved Access to Pharmaceuticals and Services (SIAPS)-- a USAID-funded, MSH-led program--  that means we need to look closely at the impact each dollar we spend has on achieving our goal: strengthening the management of essential medicines and supplies so they reach the people who need them and are used rationally. Here are some of the evidence-driven activities SIAPS has been pursuing, with their results.

Increasing global health security

As Bill Gates recently noted, foreign aid keeps people safe and makes the world more stable. The three countries most affected by the Ebola epidemic—Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia—had weak health systems that provided little or no warning of the impending epidemic and few resources with which to fight quickly.

MSH Delegation: Matthew Martin, Crystal Lander, Catharine Taylor, Marian Wentworth, Stuart Knight, Barbara Ayotte, and Alison Corbacio

As the Trump Administration released its truncated global health budget last week, ministers of health, members of civil society and the private sector, and government delegations met in Geneva for the annual World Health Assembly to discuss programs that exemplify the value of foreign assistance and its tangible effect on families in some of the poorest countries. In advance of the meeting, MSH released position statements on WHA agenda items. Dozens of governments led by Germany and South Africa, signed the Global Compact for Universal Health Coverage 2030 committing to make affordable and quality healthcare accessible for all. This year’s WHA was particularly historic with the nomination of the WHO’s first African Director-General, Dr.

{Photo credit: Amelie Sow-Dia}Charlene Chisema, a community mobilization officer, conducts an Education Through Listening session on antenatal care.Photo credit: Amelie Sow-Dia

It is early afternoon in the village of Kanjuwale at the foot of Nguluyanawambe Mountain in central Malawi. Charlene Chisema, a community mobilization officer, asks a group of local women about best antenatal care (ANC) practices.

“It should start early – in the first months,” said one woman.

“You need four visits,” said another.

“Great!” said Chisema, who works with the USAID Organized Network of Services for Everyone’s (ONSE) Health Activity. “How many ANC visits did you all have during your last pregnancy?”

Silence.

Suddenly, a frail woman with a baby on her lap stood up, wiped a tear from her face, and said, “I will not return to ANC.” 

The women looked shocked – they were not used to such candid talk.

“Thank you for being honest,” said Chisema, leaning forward with an encouraging smile.  “Please tell us why.” 

Grace sat back down, wiped her face with her cloth wrap, and explained how the nurse at the local health post has been teasing her for “being pregnant again, while my baby, barely six months old, is still exclusively breastfeeding!”[1]

 {Photo credit: Warren Zelman for MSH}Health worker in TB ward in Ethiopia.Photo credit: Warren Zelman for MSH

One Project in Ethiopia Shows Us That Investing in Health Systems Pays Dividends 

Over the past five years, the Ethiopian government and MSH have been working shoulder to shoulder to improve and expand the country’s tuberculosis services with the goal of alleviating the burden of the disease.

If you wonder whether foreign assistance is money well spent, just look at the remarkable progress we’ve made in Ethiopia, where only a few years ago the stock out rate for TB drugs was as high as 20 percent. That number today is about two percent.

Our tuberculosis work in Ethiopia supported 55 million people between 2010 and 2016. During that period, we improved case detection, diagnosis, and treatment mechanisms; strengthened the laboratory capacity of more than 2,000 facilities to diagnose TB; improved the supply management of TB drugs; and trained tens of thousands of health workers at all levels of the health system.

The upside is not just the thousands of lives saved or improved, but the strengthening of a health system that is now better equipped not only to respond to TB, but also to other diseases, therefore helping the people of Ethiopia live healthier lives, contribute to their economy, and make their country a more stable and peaceful place to live.

{Photo credit: Simon Chambers/PWRDF}Indigenous midwives' centre, Chiapas, MexicoPhoto credit: Simon Chambers/PWRDF

Over the past year, Tijuana, Mexico, has seen an influx of U.S.-bound Haitian migrants fleeing communities left in disrepair from the 2010 earthquake and further devastated by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. These migrants often begin their journey in Latin America and trek through multiple countries and hostile terrain only to find they cannot enter the U.S. once at the border. Among the stalled Haitian migrants living in makeshift shelters as they contemplate their next steps, pregnant women face another uncertainty: whether they or their baby will languish during pregnancy and childbirth without access to skilled maternal and newborn health care.  Recognizing this health crisis, a group of midwives, Parteras Fronterizas (Borderland Midwives in English), arrived on the scene to provide antenatal and safe childbirth care, with help from women who translated from Spanish or English to Haitian Creole. 

 {Photo credit: Todd Shapera}Emanuel Bizimungu a community health worker in Rwanda, examines a girl, Sandrine Uwase, two and a half, who he treated for malaria. She recovered after several days. They are in Nyagakande village, near the Ruhunda health center in eastern Rwanda.Photo credit: Todd Shapera

Malaria is a complex disease – how it’s transmitted and where, who becomes sick, the numerous efforts to control and combat it and, yet, after centuries we still haven’t managed to eradicate it.

During the past five years, the global partnership to fight malaria has witnessed some success including a 29% reduction in malaria mortality and a 75% increase in use of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs). Despite these successes, the global burden of disease still sits heavily at 212 million new cases and 429,000 deaths in 2015 – the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly half the world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria with 70% of malaria deaths occurring in children less than five years of age, who are particularly susceptible to the disease (WHO, 2016).

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